Great profs, re­search and gear


Ed­u­ca­tion stu­dents who be­lieve psy­chi­atric drugs and treat­ments are more harm­ful than help­ful have a new av­enue for re­search. The Univer­sity of Toronto’s On­tario In­sti­tute of Ed­u­ca­tion has es­tab­lished a schol­ar­ship in the con­tro­ver­sial field of an­tipsy­chi­a­try. Billed as a world first, the Bon­nie Burstow Schol­ar­ship in An­tipsy­chi­a­try is awarded with dona­tions that its name­sake in­struc­tor – a trauma spe­cial­ist and critic of psy­chi­a­try – is match­ing with up to $50,000 out of her own pocket.

The au­thor of Psy­chi­a­try And The Busi­ness Of Madness ($52, Pal­grave Macmil­lan) and an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor in OISE’s de­part­ment of lead­er­ship, higher and adult ed­u­ca­tion be­lieves that there is no proven bi­o­log­i­cal ba­sis for men­tal ill­ness and that psy­chi­atric meth­ods – in­clud­ing drugs – and the in­sti­tu­tions that sup­port them are op­pres­sive and vi­o­late hu­man rights.

Burstow views the schol­ar­ship as a win for aca­demic eq­uity, given that the Univer­sity of Toronto’s Fac­ulty of Medicine in­cludes a psy­chi­a­try de­part­ment. Set­ting it up was not an easy feat. “I was asked at dif­fer­ent points if I would change the name and not use the word ‘an­tipsy­chi­a­try,’” she tells NOW. “I said no, I wouldn’t. It’s an area that makes peo­ple ner­vous.”

Burstow’s cour­ses usu­ally at­tract 20 to 25 stu­dents in a given year. None of her classes – which are so­cial-jus­tice-fo­cused and ad­dress sur­vivors of trauma – has “an­tipsy­chi­a­try” in its ti­tle, but the per­spec­tive is al­ways in­cor­po­rated.

The schol­ars who at­tend her an­tipsy­chi­a­try sup­port group

NOW’s ed­u­ca­tion team puts the spot­light on in­no­va­tive pro­fes­sors, cre­ative re­search and great gear for stu­dents

of­ten hold anti-racist and fem­i­nist view­points, and she oc­ca­sion­ally at­tracts med stu­dents in­ter­ested in hear­ing from some­one who doesn’t buy into the psy­chi­atric par­a­digm.

“The long history of psy­chi­a­try is the long history of pathol­o­giz­ing women. The fem­i­nist com­mu­nity has been aware of that for decades,” she says. “It is also an in­sti­tu­tion that pathol­o­gizes Blacks, les­bians and gays. This in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity anal­y­sis is read­ily avail­able through an an­tipsy­chi­a­try lens.”

Al­though an­tipsy­chi­a­try is niche in the world of academia, cri­tiques of psy­chi­a­try have had an im­pact on meth­ods and have shaped pub­lic opin­ion of the field.

Ken Ke­sey’s 1962 novel, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, and the Os­car­win­ning film adap­ta­tion 13 years later cre­ated dis­trust of psy­chi­a­try and specif­i­cally elec­troshock treat­ments.

Around the same time, the nascent gay rights move­ment pres­sured the Amer­i­can Psy­chi­atric As­so­ci­a­tion to de­clas­sify ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity as a dis­ease, and it was dropped from the Di­ag­nos­tic And Sta­tis­ti­cal Man­ual Of Men­tal Dis­or­ders in 1973.

“I’m hop­ing this schol­ar­ship will spur al­ter­na­tive ways of ar­rang­ing so­ci­ety so that we aren’t in­vent­ing dis­eases or brain-dam­ag­ing peo­ple, and there is a greater ac­cep­tance of dif­fer­ence” says Burstow. “We need to work out prob­lems to­gether rather than bring in ex­perts. I’m look­ing for the creation of some­thing far more egal­i­tar­ian.”

Stu­dents re­ceiv­ing the schol­ar­ship can fo­cus on any area of an­tipsy­chi­a­try. Burstow hopes it paves the way for big­ger schol­ar­ships she can en­dow when she dies.

At OISE, sev­eral stu­dents fo­cus­ing on an­tipsy­chi­a­try have had trou­ble get­ting in-house schol­ar­ships, Burstow adds. Her schol­ar­ship, which is en­dowed in per­pe­tu­ity, was ap­proved on the grounds of aca­demic free­dom, with sup­port from the dean and his ad­vis­ers.

If psy­chi­a­try school of­fi­cials are un­happy, they are not say­ing so pub­licly.

U of T de­part­ment of psy­chi­a­try chair Benoit H. Mul­sant de­clined an in­ter­view but sent a state­ment via a school spokesper­son.

“Uni­ver­si­ties are places where free in­quiry is en­cour­aged and sup­ported,” he said. “The de­part­ment of psy­chi­a­try will con­tinue to pre­pare the next gen­er­a­tion of psy­chi­a­trists. Do­ing so, we strive to uphold the high­est stan­dards of the pro­fes­sion, con­sis­tent with the latest re­search that en­sures the well­be­ing of in­di­vid­u­als with men­tal dis­or­ders.”

Since Burstow an­nounced the fund, it was swiftly crit­i­cized by a men­tal health ad­vo­cate in the Huff­in­g­ton Post, who noted that the Canadian wing of the Cit­i­zens Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Rights, a non-profit founded by the Church of Scien­tol­ogy, has praised the schol­ar­ship.

That ar­ti­cle is a one ex­am­ple of the flak Burstow has weath­ered over four decades as an an­tipsy­chi­a­try ac­tivist and rad­i­cal ther­a­pist.

She dis­misses crit­i­cisms align­ing her re­search with anti-vax­ers and Scien­tol­ogy as “bo­gus smear tac­tics.”

“In ev­ery univer­sity I’ve taught in, there’s al­ways been some kind of push-back,” she says. When she taught at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba’s so­cial work de­part­ment, a psy­chi­a­try pro­gram of­fi­cial asked to speak in one of her classes.

“I wrote back and said that in the name of peo­ple hav­ing mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives, I would have no prob­lem with hav­ing some­one from the de­part­ment of psy­chi­a­try giv­ing their per­spec­tive in my class – as long as, in the in­ter­est of their stu­dents also hav­ing mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives, I be in­vited into their classes,” she re­calls. “I never heard back from them.”

Burstow gives a free talk Tues­day (December 6) at the Toronto Ref­er­ence Li­brary’s El­iz­a­beth Bee­ton Au­di­to­rium (789 Yonge). 6:30 pm. tpl.ca.

“I’m hop­ing the schol­ar­ship will spur al­ter­na­tive ways of ar­rang­ing so­ci­ety so that we aren’t in­vent­ing dis­eases or brain­dam­ag­ing peo­ple and there is a greater ac­cep­tance of dif­fer­ence.”

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